ITHACA, N.Y. — Dozens of people celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Ithaca Monday afternoon with a rally and march through downtown, ending in the Commons.

Leading the group from the Tompkins County Courthouse on Tioga Street and in a circle around the Ithaca Commons were three Taíno people, Native Americans with roots in the Caribbean and parts of North America: Joe Soto, Maya Soto and Alexas Esposito.

“We’re here today, you know, because we wanted to let people know that we’re not really willing to accept things so easily and…to also acknowledge and honor our ancestors and, not honor, but acknowledge the atrocities that have occurred over the last 600 years or so against our people…they’re still occurring in a real big way,” Esposito said. 

She said it’s the first time she has organized an event for Indigenous Peoples’ Day and she did so in part because of the Tompkins County Legislature’s failure to acknowledge the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day during a meeting in August. The measure had been planned for months and, after a sharp back-and-forth between legislators, failed to pass in a 10-4 vote.

“That’s a huge dis especially after the city accepted the same resolution — no questions asked basically,” Esposito said. “It was really sad, especially in the times we’re in, to see that Tompkins County Legislature as a whole body said no, even though some of the individual legislators … were really rooting for us and trying to do as much hard work as possible.”

Realted: Indigenous Peoples’ Day unanimously approved by Ithaca Common Council

Marching alongside the Taíno people as they sang traditional songs and pounded a drum was District No. 1 Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, who tried to pass legislation adding the acknowledgment of  Indigenous Peoples’ Day to what is usually recognized as Columbus Day. She said at the Legislature meeting that people should be able to choose which holiday they want to celebrate.

“It’s not a done deal on the Legislature. It might be (at) a little halt at this point because there’s a lot of fear,” McBean-Clairborne said. “We have a new body. We have some new folks coming onboard who might be much more attuned and sensitive to this issue and not stuck in colonialism. So I encourage all of you who are here to please keep calling, writing, emailing, showing up to our Legislature. Yes, today has come and gone but there’s still many more years to come.”

Esposito said she decided to call Monday’s event Mending the Sacred Circle because of the significance circles play culturally as symbols of equality. So after marching in a circle, attendees held hands while Joe Soto sang healing songs and pounded a drum.

Joe Soto said, “This day is symbolic in a sense that we’re being forced to recognize a man that came here (and) started to do something that was so vile for the sake of a couple of pieces of gold…but it spread like wildfire through both continents.”

For him, and he said many Native Americans, preserving their culture and passing traditions on to a younger generation is the hope for their future and the chance to  “…Restart and begin to heal not just the bloodshed that happened on this land but the devastation that happened across this land.”

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Photos by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

Maya Soto, Alexas Esposito and Joe Soto gathered on the front steps of the Tompkins County Courthouse Monday to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.